Our tech start-ups need to plan with purpose - comment

The recent, much-anticipated report from former Skyscanner chief operating officer, Mark Logan, on Scotland’s tech ecosystem, has given business and government so much to consider.

Friday, 25th September 2020, 7:30 am
Finance Secretary Kate Forbes and Mark Logan at the launch of the scheme funding new tech hubs. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire.
Finance Secretary Kate Forbes and Mark Logan at the launch of the scheme funding new tech hubs. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire.

Clearly, we’re building on strong foundations, but we need to act fast to realise the sector’s massive potential. As Logan makes clear, there is much to do to raise Scotland’s tech scene from its current “pre-tipping point” status toward a stage where it’s firing on all cylinders, producing a steady stream of mature home-grown, internationally-competitive companies.

Education reform and access to talent, infrastructure investment and better routes to funding are all needed. A huge challenge, yes, but the rewards for success will be worth it for Scotland.

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It is encouraging then to see the finance secretary accepting the report’s findings and announcing £4 million for the creation of the first new “tech scalers” to support at least 300 start-ups in the next five years. There’s also an ongoing ministerial commitment to work in partnership with industry. To pass the tipping point successfully, I feel it will need relentless focus and input from business.

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I’m optimistic that we can get there. In fact it’s essential that we do, because tech businesses can and should deliver huge additional value to Scotland’s economy and global reputation as a place to invest in contemporary sectors, like data, fintech and cybersecurity.

We have most of the building blocks, including a working culture that encourages excellence, and an ambitious, driven mindset among tech sector bosses. If we focus on nurturing a vibrant start-up ecosystem, with plenty of companies providing global services at scale, then unicorns will follow. That said, one thing our start-ups should take on board quickly and early – especially in the context of Covid-19 – is the importance of “purpose”.

Indeed, as a recent Accenture report makes clear, purpose – what a company stands for and how well it aligns with each customer‘s beliefs and personal values – has emerged as a key brand differentiator.

Scotland’s emerging tech firms must decide early what their own purpose is and how they’ll let it shape their product offering and engagement with consumers. Tackling the issue will be a key part of securing the product-market fit that companies need to scale up successfully.

Rewards

The rewards, in terms of acquiring and retaining customers, are clear. Our global research shows that 65 per cent of consumers want businesses to take a stand on issues close to their heart. That rises to 74 percent for 18 to 39-year-olds.

On the flip side, the risks involved with losing sight of purpose are clear too – 55 per cent said their purchasing was driven by ethical values and authenticity, while 66 per cent demand transparency in a company’s sourcing of products, working conditions and stance on important issues.

Get these things wrong and customers will inevitably look elsewhere. Moreover, Covid-19 has had a multiplier effect on the significance of company purpose. In many ways it has reset what being part of a society and community means. Treating others with kindness, and making decisions for the greater good are examples.

Covid-19 has given us all a common purpose, so the challenge for companies is to define their response in ways that are truly authentic to their customers. Those that do can then put their insights to work on innovative products. Where I think Scottish companies can have a competitive edge is that organisation leaders here understand the value of purpose well.

We have a government that has put “wellbeing” front and centre of economic planning and a wider business culture that understands the value of fairness and working in and for a community. These are values that can easily resonate not just here in Scotland, but with consumers globally.

The trick will be for companies to take that global perspective early and stay responsive to as wide a customer base as possible. Let’s make sure we put purpose at the heart of our new tech scalers.

Les Bayne is joint MD for Accenture in Scotland

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